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Storify Co-Founder implies nothing on Facebook is private

It has been uncovered that private Facebook status updates and secret group updates can be shared publicly through the Storify app, and the company’s Co-Founder has spoken out, asserting that nothing on Facebook is private.

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storify cofounder burt herman

storify cofounder burt herman

Facebook privacy settings said to be bypassed by Storify app

Late Thursday, AGBeat broke the story that through the Storify app, users can bypass privacy settings and publicly share Facebook status updates from private users as well as from within private groups. The story has technologists and laypeople alike considering the value of online privacy, some asking if the ability to publish private statuses crosses a line. We initially pointed out that private Twitter accounts cannot be “Storified,” but private Facebook updates could, in an effort to illustrate that the app has the ability to protect private status updates on another social network.

We also initially pointed out that this situation, regardless of fault, is a great reminder that there really is no such thing as privacy, that anything can be screenshot, but many have asserted publicly that the Storify app allows users to inadvertently share private status updates without permission from the original user, nor from a user marked as private.

“Screenshots are malicious. This can happen by accident. That’s the difference,” said Marc Lefton, who is known as a business network pioneer for his founding of Adholes.com, and is a partner at Half Fiction.

Facebook is now investigating

A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable that Storify is not getting any of the data through Facebook’s APIs, likening the process to a screenshot.

Meanwhile, another Facebook spokesperson told The New York Times that the social media giant is now investigating how to solve the problem, explaining that the browser extension allows a user leto intercept the message posted on Facebook and add it to Storify.

According to the Facebook Data Use Policy, information that is always publicly available includes a user’s name, profile pictures and cover photos, network, gender, username, and user ID. In that list of data points, status updates are not included, leaving some to question whether people who have posted status updates that were not deemed public are responsible for having put them on Storify, violating Facebook’s Terms of Service, or if it is the responsibility of Storify to make private information less accessible, like private Twitter accounts which cannot be Storified.

One technologist opined that users could request that Facebook provide more granularity to data sharing, but notes that making that a priority for Facebook is unlikely.

Storify calls it “an etiquette issue”

Storify Co-Founder, Burt Herman commented on the original story, “This isn’t a technology issue as much as an etiquette issue. Now that everyone has the power to easily publish to the whole world, we all need to think about how to use that power.”

Danny Brown, founder of For Bloggers By Bloggers, and author of The Parables of Business asked Herman, “Surely the etiquette should be for technology API’s to respect privacy settings and be unable to let users post private group updates, no?”

“It’s up to you to decide what to share online, and whether to trust the people who can see what you share,” Herman responded, adding on Twitter that “It’s no accident if you decide to publish something – you’re making a deliberate decision.”

Storify says privacy exists only when posting solely to yourself

Former journalist, and General Manager of Social Media at Internet Media Labs, Amy Vernon tweeted, “Things from private groups show up in your newsfeed. When you click on it, you might not realize it’s a private post,” which Herman responded by asking if something is really “private” if you can see it?

Vernon noted, “There have been many times I’ve seen private posts in my newsfeed that have startled me [because] I didn’t realize they were private,” later tweeting, “If you’re in a “private” group, anything you post there shows up in the news feeds of all the other [people] in that group. It’s easy to miss that it’s for that group and not public. The “Storify” link is right next to the “like” link.”

Herman retorted that “If you can see something, how is that “private”? Anyone could easily copy it. Private is posting solely to yourself,” adding that “again, you could easily copy it. It’s up to you as a writer to decide what you feel is appropriate to publish.”

Herman then took to the Storify blog to explain their position. “To clarify, we want to reassure you that Storify does not make anything public that hasn’t been collected by a user and published in a story. Also, Storify users do NOT have access to content on the web that they couldn’t otherwise see themselves.”

“We believe strongly in freedom of expression and democratization of media in the Internet age,” Herman stated. “Anyone can now easily and cheaply publish to the web and reach a global audience. That also means each of us with this power must consider how we use it.”

Web community reacts to Storify’s position

Julie Pippert, Founder and Director of Artful Media Group, responsible for originally unearthing the privacy dilemma said she is “disappointed with the tone and tactic Storify has adopted.”

“I was very emphatic and deliberate in stating we all have a responsibility and need to exercise caution as posters and sharers,” Pippert said of her original statements published on AGBeat. “However, the statement from Storify to “make better friends” is not very productive. Even good friends can make a mistake. A more constructive solution would be smarter and better.”

Marc Girolimetti, Founder of Red Raider Studios, with over 16 years of interactive and software experience said, “They’re focused solely on customer acquisition and not on a sound model, which is a result of a sound vision. If they’re acquired, it’s because somebody wanted the eyeballs, not the product.”

Brown, who was among the first to question the Storify Co-Founder, wrote in depth regarding how he believes Storify misses the point on protecting privacy, asking, “Instead of blaming the user, why doesn’t Storify take the higher road and have a filter/blocker in place (similar to the Twitter scenario) where a message pops up prior to the sharing that asks the simple question: “This content is from a restricted source – are you sure you wish to share?” Or, better still, simply change the way Storify scrapes network API’s and only allow sharing of clearly publicly available content. Of course, to do this would mean admitting Storify (and, by association, Facebook) have a problem. And no-one likes to admit they have a weakness…”

Vernon commented on Brown’s blog that, “I realized [Storify doesn’t] actually care what the privacy status of a post is and placed the onus completely on the user. I’m the first one to tell people that they should assume everything they do online (including private email to only one other person) could be made public. But that doesn’t mean that the tools we use should ignore the privacy settings that exist.”

CEO and Founder of Zoetica, Kami Watson Huyse, a highly regarded 17-year public relations veteran said, “I think the issue here isn’t really technology as much as it is attitude. It is clear that Facebook could restrict private feeds and Storify could choose not to accept any content from private or secret groups if it were using the Facebook API, but to meet the feedback with scorn is a [public relations] faux pas.”

A “legitimate” user concern treated with disrespect

Mickey Gomez, Executive Director at The Volunteer Center Serving Howard County echoed Huyse’s sentiment, stating “I wish the Storify folks had been more responsive and less defensive. Here is an opportunity to engage with users – many of whom legitimately appreciate the platform and use it regularly. They’ve come to Storify with an issue of legitimate concern only to have trite platitudes flung back at them. “Pick better friends.” “Nothing is truly private.” “It’s no worse than a screen shot.” And perhaps the issue is on the Facebook side of the house, but even so, it’s being exploited by a Chrome add-on from Storify.”

“Even if they can’t do anything about it,” Gomez concluded, “acknowledging that it’s a concern to at least some users would be a step in the right direction. Explaining the issues – challenges included – would also be welcomed. Posting with a decidedly defensive tone did them no favors and was a disappointment.”

A commenter called “Serenity” commented on AllFacebook.com, “I’m sad that Storify is taking this approach. You have an opportunity to say, “Hey, wow, thanks for pointing that out. That’s important for users to know and we’ll try to address it.” Instead you go with, “You can publish what you can see, so be careful.” I’ve absolutely raved about your service in the past, but your reaction to this issue – including calling the title of the post “provocative” – runs counter to everything I’ve ever witnessed or learned about responding to criticism.”

The takeaway

Storify is without a doubt, a useful tool that is extremely popular and serves as an unparalleled curation tool, and even if private status updates are added by a user, at least it is public knowledge which individual leaked private status updates from a private user or secret group. Even Pippert continues to sing the free service’s praises.

That said, the vulnerable person whose private status updates are being used publicly was never asked for permission, violating their user rights having entered a private network to share private information privately. If the user is responsible for purposely or inadvertently sharing private information, the least Storify could do is ask “are you sure you want to share this information marked as private?” prior to it going public, helping their user to understand the difference, many of whom do not.

Storify could simply address the technical difficulties in separating public from private, and maybe even throw it back on Facebook, but rather chose to blame the user, which history has proven is never a good public relations move.


Storify of Storify’s ability to publish private Facebook updates

Vernon compiled community reactions regarding the original story, including her interactions with Herman. It is lengthy and in-depth, so click “Read More” at the bottom right to load more updates:

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Amy McCloskey Tobin

    January 21, 2013 at 6:45 am

    This statement says it all: “Private is posting solely to yourself,” Like most PR disasters, there is a streak of the “inane” running through them. Storify’s response is stupefying; no one is buying it.

  2. KatyTorgov

    January 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    So you can notify users who’s public content was mentioned in a story about it on Twitter, e.g. “You’ve been quoted in my #Storify story…” but you cannot notify those whose private Facebook content is used in a Storify?

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Social Media

New Pinterest code of conduct pushes for mindful posting

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media sites have struggled with harmful content, but Pinterest is using their new code of conduct to encourage better, not just reprimands.

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Pinterest icon on phone with 2 notifications, indicating new code of conduct.

It appears that at least one social media site has made a decision on how to move forward with the basis of their platform. Pinterest has created a brand-new code of conduct for their users. Giving them a set of rules to follow which to some may be a little restricting, but I’m not mad about it. In a public statement, they told the world their message:

“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant, and reflective of who they are.”

The revamp of their system includes 3 separate changes revolving around the rules of the platform. All of them are complete with examples and full sets of rules. The list is summed up as:

  • Pinterest Creator Code
  • Pinterest Comment Moderation Tools
  • Pinterest Creator Fund

For the Creator Code, Pinterest had this to say: “The Creator Code is a mandatory set of guidelines that lives within our product intended to educate and build community around making inclusive and compassionate content”. The rules are as follows:

  • Be Kind
  • Check my Facts
  • Be aware of triggers
  • Practice Inclusion
  • Do no harm

The list of rules provides some details on the pop-up as well, with notes like “make sure content doesn’t insult,” “make sure information is accurate,” etc. The main goal of this ‘agreement’, according to Pinterest, is not to reprimand offending people but to practice a proactive and empowering social environment. Other social websites have been shoe-horned into reprimanding instead of being proactive against abuse, and it has been met with mixed results. Facebook itself is getting a great deal of flack about their new algorithm that picks out individual words and bans people for progressively longer periods without any form of context.

Comment Moderation is a new set of tools that Pinterest is hoping will encourage a more positive experience between users and content creators. It’s just like putting the carrot before the donkey to get him to move the cart.

  • Positivity Reminders
  • Moderation Tools
  • Featured Comments
  • New Spam Prevention Signals

Sticking to the positivity considerations here seems to be the goal. They seem to be focusing on reminding people to be good and encouraging them to stay that way. Again, proactive, not reactive.

The social platform’s last change is to create a Pinterest Creator Fund. Their aim is to provide training, create strategy consulting, and financial support. Pinterest has also stated that they are going to be aiming these funds specifically at underrepresented communities. They even claim to be committing themselves to a quota of 50% of their Creators. While I find this commendable, it also comes off a little heavy handed. I would personally wait to see how they go about this. If they are ignoring good and decent Creators based purely on them being in a represented group, then I would find this a bad use of their time. However, if they are actively going out and looking for underrepresented Creators while still bringing in good Creators that are in represented groups, then I’m all for this.

Being the change you want to see in the world is something I personally feel we should all strive towards. Whether or not you produced positive change depends on your own goals… so on and so forth. In my own opinion, Pinterest and their new code of conduct is creating a better positive experience here and striving to remind people to be better than they were with each post. It’s a bold move and ultimately could be a spectacular outcome. Only time will tell how their creators and users will respond. Best of luck to them.

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Social Media

Facebook releases Hotline as yet another Clubhouse competitor

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As yet another app emerges to try and take some of Clubhouse’s success, Facebook Hotline adds a slightly more formal video chat component to the game.

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Woman forming hands into heart shape at laptop hosting live video chat, similar to Facebook's new app Hotline

Facebook is at it again and launching its own version of another app. This time, the company has launched Hotline, which looks like a cross between Instagram Live and Clubhouse.

Facebook’s Hotline is the company’s attempt at competing with Clubhouse, the audio-based social media app, which was released on iOS in March 2020. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Facebook had already begun working on building its own version of the app. Erik Hazzard, who joined Facebook in 2017 after the company acquired his tbh app, is leading the project.

The app was created by the New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, Facebook’s experimental development division, and it’s already in beta testing online. To access it, you can use the web-based application through the platform’s website to join the waitlist and “Host a Show”. However, you will need to sign in using your Twitter account to do so.

Unlike Clubhouse, Hotline lets users also chat through video and not just audio alone. The product is more like a formal Q&A and recording platform. Its features allow people to live stream and hold Q&A sessions with their audiences similar to Instagram Live. And, audience members can ask questions by using text or audio.

Also, what makes Hotline a little more formal than Clubhouse is that it automatically records conversations. According to TechCrunch, hosts receive both a video and audio recording of the event. With a guaranteed recording feature, the Q&A sessions will stray away from the casual vibes of Clubhouse.

The first person to host a Q&A live stream on Hotline is real-estate investor Nick Huber, who is the type of “expert” Facebook is hoping to attract to its platform.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “New Product Experimentation has been testing multimedia products like CatchUp, Venue, Collab, and BARS, and we’re encouraged to see the formats continue to help people connect and build community,” the spokesperson added.

According to a Reuters article, the app doesn’t have any audience size limits, hosts can remove questions they don’t want to answer, and Facebook is moderating inappropriate content during its early days.

An app for mobile devices isn’t available yet, but if you want to check it out, you can visit Hotline’s website.

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Social Media

Brace yourselves: Facebook has re-opened political advertising space

(SOCIAL MEDIA) After a break due to misinformation in the past election, Facebook is once again allowing political advertising slots on their platform – with some caveats.

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Facebook open on phone in a wallet case, open for political advertising again.

After a months-long ban on political ads due to misinformation and other inappropriate behavior following the election in November, Facebook is planning to resume providing space for political advertising.

Starting on Thursday, March 4th, advertisers were able to buy spots for ads that comprise politics, what Facebook categorizes as “social issues”, and other potentially charged topics previously prohibited by the social media platform.

The history of the ban is complicated, and its existence was predicated on a profound distrust between political parties and mainstream news. In the wake of the 2016 election and illicit advertising activity that muddied the proverbial waters, Facebook had what some would view as a clear moral obligation to prevent similar sediment from clouding future elections.

Facebook delivered on that obligation by removing political advertising from their platform prior to Election Day, a decision that would stand fast in the tumultuous months to follow. And, while Facebook did temporarily suspend the ban in Georgia during the senate proceedings, political advertisements nevertheless remained absent from the platform in large until last week.

The removal of the ban does have some accompanying caveats—namely the identification process. Unlike before, advertisers will have to go to great lengths to confirm their identities prior to launching ads. Those ads will most likely also need to come from domestic agencies given Facebook’s diligent removal of foreign and malicious campaigns in the prior years.

The moral debate regarding social media advertising—particularly on Facebook—is a deeply nuanced and divided one. Some argue that, by removing political advertising across the board, Facebook has simply limited access for “good actors” and cleared the way for illegitimate claims.

Facebook’s response to this is simply that they didn’t understand fully the role ads would play in the electoral process, and that allowing those ads back will allow them to learn more going forward.

Either way, political advertising spots are now open on Facebook, and the overall public perception seems controversial enough to warrant keeping an eye on the progression of this decision. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Facebook to revoke access to these advertisements again—or limit further their range and scope—in the coming months and years.

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